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Friday, July 17
More and more, saxophonist JD Allen evokes memories of the great Thelonious Monk, at least in one important respect. Monk’s improvisational genius lay in his ability to work from within the composition he was playing, to fragment and abstract that theme and develop it—-often to its logical extreme (he could build a solo around two notes). Allen doesn’t take his improvisations quite that far, but he is definitely and increasingly a thematic improviser. He works with variations as well as abstractions, and more importantly, he has an uncanny knack for harnessing the energy inherent to a composition (usually his own). Of course, this doesn’t always apply, because Allen can also improvise a piece from scratch with great technique and virtuosity. All of this can be heard in great detail on his new album Graffiti, recorded with the other members of his longtime trio: bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. It’s arguably the best sax trio in jazz today, able to gird and supplement Allen’s playing without hampering it. The group plays a CD release show Friday and Saturday night at Bohemian Caverns, 2001 Eleventh Street NW. $20 advance, $25 door.
Sunday, July 19
Setlist loves to hear (and write about) Jessica Boykin-Settles. She’s one of the area’s best singers—-a careful, precise sculptor of her own instrument and a deep student of its history in the jazz idiom. (Her occasional series of lectures on the latter should be all the proof you need on that point.) Perhaps less discussed are her rather bold harmonic ventures. Listen to Boykin-Settles on any given song, and you’ll begin to notice a singular kind of tug-of-war between her voice and those of her accompanists (particularly if a piano is on the gig). Boykin-Settles will be working the lyric, and seemingly without a second thought will pull the tune into a direction that nobody, maybe not even she, expected. It’s an improvisational technique that Settles surely learned from her onetime teacher (and onetime colleague) Connaitre Miller, and it is of a piece with her very strong onstage personality. But it helps if she also has a strong set of musicians behind her. Pianist Tim Whalen, bassist Ethan Philion, and drummer Greg Holloway? All is well. The Jessica Boykin-Settles Quartet performs at 5 p.m. at the Hill Center, part of CapitalBop’s Hot 5 series. Free.
Tuesday, July 21
It’s a week to once again break our own self-imposed rules against spotlighting an artist twice in a row—but Shannon Gunn has a new and quite extraordinary project going on: the Firebird Organ Trio. Organ trios aren’t in and of themselves unique, but organ trios led by trombonists certainly are. Gunn (the trombonist, if you hadn’t caught that) works with drummer Allen Jones and two rotating organists, Todd Simon and Carter Stevens. They play original compositions, as well as “groove arrangements of popular tunes.” And it looks like it’s going to be a weekly gig at Columbia Station, the much-neglected Adams Morgan jazz joint. This week, the core trio also features two guests: bassist Michael Brandon, and a surprise organist. Sit-ins are welcomed and encouraged. They begin at 8 p.m. at Columbia Station, 2325 Eighteenth Street NW. Free.